Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) wears a khaki jacket and glasses.


Glen Powell reteams with Richard Linklater in front of — and now behind — the camera on the chameleonic dramedy.

Photography by Brian Roedel
22 January 20247 min read

As the saying goes, we humans contain multitudes. Take, for example, Gary Johnson, the protagonist of Richard Linklater’s captivating new film, Hit Man. An awkward college professor who teaches philosophy and psychology, Gary is certainly not the likeliest candidate to pose as a killer for hire for the New Orleans Police Department. Yet he somehow excels in the role, inventing a host of personas to better appeal to the hapless people hoping to bump off their enemies.

But Gary’s gifts for improvisation lead him into morally dubious territory when, as the mysteriously sexy Ron, he embarks on a steamy affair with Madison, a potential client who is trying to flee a toxic marriage. The romance sets off a chain reaction that threatens to place them both in grave danger. Says Linklater ahead of the film’s Sundance premiere: “It’s a comedy . . . about murder. What’s more fun?”

Madison (Adria Arjona) and Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) stand in an airy white kitchen.

Madison (Adria Arjona) and Gary Johnson (Glen Powell)

Oddly enough, Hit Man is loosely based on a true story. Boyhood filmmaker Linklater initially came across the head-spinning tale of Gary Johnson’s double life as chronicled in a 2001 Texas Monthly article by Skip Hollandsworth (whose work also inspired Linklater’s offbeat 2011 comedy Bernie). Then, during the COVID pandemic, the filmmaker’s friend and collaborator Glen Powell contacted him about possibly adapting Johnson’s intriguing story together. 

Powell had first worked with Linklater as a teenager on 2006’s Fast Food Nation, reuniting on 2016’s Everybody Wants Some!! and more recently in 2022’s Apollo 10 ½: A Space Age Childhood. With Hit Man, he and Linklater co-wrote the screenplay and produced the film as creative partners, penning the role of Gary/Ron specifically for Powell. “The best part about working with Rick is there is no ego,” Powell says of the five-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker. “This is our fourth collaboration, but the most special part about this one is I truly feel that I have a teammate and we’re navigating this together.”

Madison (Adria Arjona) and Gary Johnson (Glen Powell) scowl in the middle of the street.

Madison (Adria Arjona) and Gary Johnson (Glen Powell)

Known for performances in such films as Top Gun: Maverick, Devotion, and Hidden Figures, Powell threw his all into his portrayal of Gary/Ron, and that commitment paid off handsomely, with the chameleonic actor captivating Hit Man audiences at last fall’s Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, and New York Film Festival. He co-stars alongside Adria Arjona (Andor, Father of the Bride) as Madison, and their off-the-charts chemistry brings romance to this unexpected comedic thriller. 

“Rick has had this just incredibly bold career, having played in every sort of space. This movie is the culmination of all these different genres and characters in one movie,” says the star and co-writer of Hit Man’s singular tone. “It was a difficult movie to pull off, and he made it look effortless.”

Watch the Hit Man trailer.